An image of Argentina's saint patron, the Virgin of Lujan, which was carried to the Falklands during the 1982 conflict, and remained unaccounted for during years, will be returned by the United Kingdom. In retribution, the Argentine military bishop will hand a replica of the image to the head of British military chaplains in a ceremony to take place next month in the Vatican with Pope Francis blessing the images.
The news was published by Buenos Aires La Nacion daily indicating that military bishop Santiago Olivera will meet his UK counterpart Paul James Mason at the ceremony in a public audience in Saint Peter's square, scheduled for 30 October.
The image is currently at Saint Michael and Saint George Cathedral at Aldershot, Hampshire county, seat of the British forces bishopric. A plaque recalls that the Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 and took with them the image of their saint patron the Virgin of Lujan. Following their rendition the Argentines left the image with Monsignor Dan Spraggon, apostolic prefect of the Islands. Monsignor presented the image to Father Alfred Hayes, who was with the UK forces during the campaign.
With the war over Father Hayes asked authorization from Monsignor Spraggon to take the image to Aldershot Cathedral to honor the dead combatants from both sides.
Last year, a layman linked to a Catholic organization, The Faith of Centurion, from the Quilmes dioceses which organizes spiritual retreats for war veterans and relatives read a message from a British medic, saying that an image of the Virgin of Lujan was at the Aldershot cathedral. Once the information was confirmed, we started discussions for its return to Argentina revealed Monsignor Olivera.
Monsignor then contacted Pope Francis during the ad limina visit of Argentine bishops to Rome, who showed an immediate interest. He asked me for time so he could find a space in his agenda since he wanted to personally bless the image, and we agreed on 30 October.
According to Argentine data, the image first arrived in the Falklands on 9 April 1982, seven days after the invasion, and during the first weeks of the conflict it remained at the Malvinas Military Air Base, Stanley airport, and was later taken to the Saint Mary parish. Allegedly Argentine soldiers shared a last mass with the image at St. Mary's on 8 May 1982, and since then Argentines lost contact with the Virgin.
Last 8 May, Olivera met with Mason in Rome and promised a replica of the original, thus ensuring the exchange, which is to blessed by Pope Francis on 30 October, in coincidence with the V Training Course for Catholic Military Chaplains that will take place at the Holy See.
I'm certain it will be a poignant occasion, as well as an important reconciliation signal in the context of the meeting of the military bishops from all the world anticipated Monsignor Joseph Murphy head of Vatican protocol.